President Barack Obama is throwing a lot of money at a lot of problems. That has drawn criticism from the conservative right. However, there is something in this year’s budget that both conservative Senator George Voinovich and liberal Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur agree on--$475 million for Great Lakes restoration.
There’s a good reason for that. The investment will have a lasting economic impact while increasing tax revenue.
Consider that Lake Erie tourism alone accounts for more than $10.7 billion in annual revenue, employs 119,000 Ohioans and generates more than $750 million in state and local taxes, according to the Ohio Sea Grant Extension Tourism Program.
Protecting this industry under siege by invasive species and toxic algae will pay dividends today and for our children.
The $475 million is the first step in a $5 billion presidential pledge to restore our lakes, says Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs for the Ohio Environmental Council. Meyer said the Obama resolution has passed both the House and Senate, but in different versions. It has been referred to a committee then it will be referred to appropriations.
Now is the time to voice your support by writing to Congressman Kaptur at the address listed below.
The funds are expected to be used to reduce toxic algae, control invasive species, modernize sewage systems, and restore wetlands, Meyer said.
Meyer and Sandy Bihn of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association agree reducing phosphorous-rich agricultural run-off is priority one. Bihn said, “If there is one issue in our area that is the most critical one it is the phosphorous levels because if they continue to rise and the algae continues to grow then you have less fish, then you have problems for the water plants because there can be toxins in the algae, so it’s a serious issue.”
Bihn wants the EPA to restrict the use of phosphorous in fertilizer. When phosphorous was banned in detergents in the 1970s, water quality improved. She also wants an island built in Lake Erie to contain dredge material currently being dumped in the open lake.
Lake Erie is also the shallowest, warmest, most biologically diverse habitat in the Great Lakes. Toledo, along with Ashtabula and Sandusky, are the “weak links” in the battle to control invasive species such as the zebra mussel, gobi and Asian carp which thrive in shallow waters. Meyer said.
At a meeting of seven Great Lakes experts held last summer at the Lake Erie Research Center, Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation told the 40 scientists and environmentalists in attendance that 185 foreign species have invaded the Great Lakes from ballast discharge of ocean going ships. Buchsbaum estimates we have spent between $1.1 billion to $1.7 billion just to fight the effects caused by zebra mussels.
This federal money will also be used to help local governments separate sanitary-storm sewers Combination sewers have not been able to contain water during heavy rains and raw sewage has been dumped into our waterways when the system has been overloaded. This contaminant has been responsible for the closing of area beaches due to the presence of e-coli bacteria. In 2001, a record 599 beaches were closed.
Money will also be used to save or create wetlands, nature’s water purifying filters.
All these initiatives will create jobs and protect and enhance Great Lakes tourism, a multi-billion dollar industry. The Great Lakes basin is a mecca for fishing, birding, boating and other water sports.
This investment is just one small step in further diversification of the economy in the Rust Belt. A Brookings Institute study concluded that if the $26 billion Great Lakes Restoration Initiative were fully implemented, the Great Lake states would reap economic benefits of $50 billion.
That’s good reason for both conservatives and liberals to come together.
To write Congresswoman Kaptur send an e-mail to www.kaptur.house.gov or send a letter to her office at One Maritime Plaza, Sixth Floor, Toledo, OH 43604